To celebrate my 21st birthday earlier this year, my parents took me on an incredible trip to Napa. It was truly a week that I’ll never forget- we had some of the most amazing meals, took a breathtaking horseback ride through the redwoods, and, of course, tasted some great wines! I loved visiting wineries and seeing how different each vineyard was. My favorite part by far though- surprise, surprise- was tasting all the wines!
Even though I had tons of fun at each winery, I felt a little intimidated most of the time. I was a little too embarrassed to ask any questions, because I wasn’t really clear on the proper etiquette for anything. But thanks to our expert guests Amber Minha and Ed Thralls, I’ll be fully prepared for my next winery visit! Our expert guests have answered all our questions about winery tasting etiquette and brought us up to speed on the proper protocols!
What are the main ‘do’s’ when in a winery tasting room?
1. Set up tour and tasting appointments ahead of time for ease.
2. Be on time.
3. Be open-minded and taste new things.
4. Limit yourself to 3-4 wineries a day.
5. Keep hydrated.
6. Wear comfortable clothes to fit the weather.
7. Sign up for the wine club if you loved the wine.
8. Be respectful and patient.
9. Spitting is ok and suggested (if you are a first timer spitter, don’t wear white!).
10. Use the wine country area trip planner to help with directions.
11. Have FUN!
1. Be patient.
2. Be open minded when it comes to trying wines that you may not have experience with before, or even think you might not like… you may just be surprised and that wine may become the highlight of your visit!
3. Spit, especially if driving.
4. Ask questions – there are no stupid questions and wineries, winemakers and hosts want you know their story and what their wines and vineyards are all about.
What are the main ‘don’t’s’ when in a winery tasting room?
1. Don’t be late.
2. Don’t wear perfume or fragrance.
3. Don’t overbook yourself – remember you have to eat and get through traffic.
4. Don’t be a “know it all” and extend your wine knowledge muscles.
5. Don’t get drunk.
1. Don't be rude/impatient – everyone is there to enjoy wine, the views and be entertained.
2. Don't wear perfume/cologne which can negatively impact your own, as well as other guests’, abilities to smell and taste the wines to their fullest expression.
3. Don't bring outside food or beverages, unless expressly allowed by the winery you are visiting.
4. Don't feel bad if you don’t like a wine and don’t hesitate to pour it in the dump bucket.
Is it always necessary to make a reservation for a winery tasting?
Amber Mihna: It is not always necessary to make an appointment, but definitely suggested. Some wineries take walk-ins, and some are appointment only. Do your homework first to know what your favorite wineries have in place.
Ed Thralls: It is not always necessary to make a reservation, though the trend in the industry is to provide more seated, high-end guest experiences driving wineries to employ a “by appoinment only” policy. However, there are still many wineries that allow drive-ins at any time.
Wineries that require reservations are often providing a higher level of service, a unique or exclusive experience and focused time with a host (but not always)… so, it really depends on what you’re are interested in.
Be mindful that if you do make reservations, make every effort to keep it. No shows and last minute cancellations for wineries in wine country are very inconvenient. Not to mention, another set of guests could have enjoyed that reservation time slot instead.
Can you ask to taste a wine for a second time?
Amber Minha: If you are interested in purchasing a bottle, it is common to ask for a revisit of the wine.
Ed Thralls: Yes! After tasting a lineup of 4 or 5 wines (or even more!), don’t feel shy for asking for that 2nd taste of that wine you think may really like, or want to compare to another in the lineup, or just making sure which wine(s) you may really want to take home.
Just don’t abuse the privilege for extra sips if you’re on a boondoggle and hitting 4 more wineries that day or looking to “get your money’s worth” if the winery charges a tasting fee. Be mindful how hard wineries work to make these wines and that there are significant costs involved from grape to glass.
Is it required for you to spit out every wine you taste? If not, what is best way to determine when to spit and when not to?
Amber Minha: No, it is not required, but you want to make sure that you are pacing yourself for the day. Those small sips can sneak up on you! I usually spit the first taste to make my evaluations. If I really enjoyed it, I will swallow the next taste. Most wineries give you enough wine to have two small tastes for each wine given.
Ed Thralls: While it is never a requirement, it is recommended for a few reasons- chances are you will be visiting many wineries in a day, so spitting will reduce your chance of becoming intoxicated. Spitting also helps reduce what is known as “palate fatigue” which will impact your ability to really experience the aromas, flavors and complete expression of each wine
When you’re ready to sit down and enjoy a glass with a picnic lunch or after a day of tasting and want to enjoy that bottle you bough earlier in the day – then feel free to consume, without spitting! ;-)
Thanks again to our expert guests for teaching us about winery tasting etiquette!
Amber Mihna, Napa Valley Vintners
Winemaker Ed Thralls, Thralls Wines